UA eyes escape from 7-7 logjam

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson argues a call against the Razorbacks Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 with an official in the first half at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson argues a call against the Razorbacks Thursday Dec. 12, 2013 with an official in the first half at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Look at the SEC basketball standings, and a trend jumps out at the eye.

It’s all about 7-7.

Arkansas (18-9, 7-7 SEC) is one of seven teams tied for fourth with a 7-7 record in SEC games.

Never mind that the SEC is ranked seventh among conferences in Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

into the quarterfinals at the SEC Tournament, making their job easier at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. To reach the quarterfinals, each top-four team gets two byes, meaning they need to win three games to be SEC Tournament champion and gain the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

The lure of the double bye gives the seven 7-7 teams plenty of motivation.

Arkansas, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt won last Saturday to catch LSU, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee - which all lost - in the SEC standings.

“Could anyone have foreseen this taking place? Not really,” Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. “But it just shows you with the game of basketball that anything’s possible.”

Each of the seven 7-7 teams have four games remaining, two at home and two on the road.

“It will be a fight to the finish, obviously, and we’ll see what happens,” Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said. “I think the fact we’ve all kind of beaten up on each other has hurt the perception of our league a little bit nationally.

“But I’m very optimistic that the teams that do get in the [NCAA] Tournament will do very well.”

SEC coaches said having seven teams with 7-7 records reflects balance, not mediocrity, behind Florida (14-0), Kentucky (11-3) and Georgia (9-5).

“I think it just speaks to how great our league is, when you’re talking about how competitive it is from top to bottom,” LSU Coach Johnny Jones said. “I think it speaks to the challenges of winning on the road.”

Vanderbilt (3-4) has the best SEC road record of the 7-7 teams, followed by Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee (2-5 each) and LSU and Texas A&M (1-6 each).

“There are some very good teams and some very good coaches,” Anderson said. “In league play you beat up on each other and teams get better as the season goes on.

“There are some wins sprinkled in on the road, but it seems like everyone is holding serve at home.”

Arkansas has the third-toughest remaining strength of schedule among the seven teams tied for fourth based on SEC records. The Razorbacks’ four opponents - Kentucky, Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama - area combined 32-24.

Tennessee has the easiest strength of schedule based on opponents’ records (21-35), followed by Texas A&M (25-31), Missouri and Ole Miss (26-30), Vanderbilt (35-21) and LSU (37-21), which has to play No. 1 Florida on the road.

“There will certainly be challenges out there,” Jones said. “But it gives you an opportunity to keep your team motivated and keep pushing the right thing.”

Vanderbilt plays host to Florida tonight, plays at Tennessee, hosts LSU and goes to Ole Miss.

The Rebels and Aggies also play three of the other 7-7 teams.

“Somebody’s got to winsome games here in the next two weeks to separate yourself,” Missouri Coach Frank Haith said. “Somebody’s going to be in that fourth spot. Right now, that’s what people are fighting for.”

Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament last year by beating Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida. The Commodores played their third game in the semifinals against the Rebels after beating Arkansas and Kentucky.

“It certainly took a toll on Vandy’s legs,” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. “Getting the double bye is a huge advantage.”

Anderson was an Arkansas assistant coach in 2000 when the Razorbacks won four games in four days to take their only SEC Tournament title.

“So it’s not like it’s impossible,” Anderson said of winning the SEC Tournament without a double bye. “But I think your chances are a lot better if you can go the route of getting three games in.”

Stallings laughed when asked if there are some nuclear physicists at Vanderbilt who could calculate all the mathematical possibilities for how the seven-way tie for fourth place might finish out.

“We probably have some people around here that are plenty smart enough to figure that out,” Stallings said. “I don’t know them.

“Honestly, it’s not even something that we’ve focused on. We’ve been pretty narrow in our focus of just the next game.’ ”Trying to sort out

Arkansas is among seven teams tied for fourth in the SEC standings at 7-7. Here is a rundown of each team’s remaining regular-season games and the SEC record of those opponents: ARKANSAS VS. (32-24)

At Kentucky (11-3), Georgia (9-5), Ole Miss (7-7), at Alabama (5-9) LSU VS. (37-19)

Texas A&M (7-7), at Florida (14-0), at Vanderbilt (7-7), Georgia (9-5) MISSOURI VS. (26-30)

At Georgia (9-5), Mississippi State (3-11), Texas A&M (7-7), at Tennessee (7-7) OLE MISS (26-30)

Alabama (5-9), at Texas A&M (7-7), at Arkansas (7-7), Vanderbilt (7-7) TENNESSEE VS. (21-35)

At Mississippi State (3-11), Vanderbilt (7-7), at Auburn (4-10), Missouri (7-7) TEXAS A&M VS. (25-31)

At LSU (7-7), Ole Miss (7-7), at Missouri (7-7), Auburn (4-10) VANDERBILT (35-21)

Florida (14-0), at Tennessee (7-7), LSU (7-7), at Ole Miss (7-7)Arkansas men (18-9, 7-7 SEC) DATE OPPONENT TIME/RESULT Nov. 8 SIU-Edwardsville W, 99-65 Nov. 15 La.-Lafayette W, 76-63 Nov. 18 SMU W, 89-78 Nov. 25 California# L, 85-77 Nov. 26 Minnesota# W, 87-73 Nov. 27 Gonzaga# L, 91-81 Dec. 3 SE Louisiana W, 111-65 Dec. 7 Clemson W, 74-68 Dec. 12 Savannah St. W, 72-43 Dec. 19 Tennessee-Martin W, 102-56 Dec. 21 South Alabama% W, 72-60 Dec. 28 High Point W, 89-48 Jan. 4 Texas-San Antonio W, 104-71 Jan. 8 at Texas A&M L, 69-53 Jan. 11 Florida L, 84-82 (OT) Jan. 14 Kentucky W, 87-85 (OT) Jan. 18 at Georgia L, 66-61 (OT) Jan. 22 at Tennessee L, 81-74 Jan. 25 Auburn W, 86-67 Jan. 28 Missouri L, 75-71 Feb. 1 at LSU L, 88-74 Feb. 5 Alabama W, 65-58 Feb. 8 at Vanderbilt W, 77-75 Feb. 13 at Missouri L, 86-85 Feb. 15 LSU W, 81-70 Feb. 19 South Carolina W, 71-64 Feb. 22 at Mississippi St. W, 73-69 Feb. 27 at Kentucky 6 p.m. Mar. 1 Georgia 3 p.m. Mar. 5 Ole Miss 7 p.m. Mar. 8 at Alabama 3 p.m. Mar. 12-16 SEC Tournament Atlanta #Maui Invitational %Verizon Arena, North Little Rock SEC game

RPI is a computer formula used by the NCAA selection committee to rank teams and conferences based on their records and strength of schedules.

The top four regular-season finishers are bracketed Up next Arkansas at No. 17 Kentucky WHEN 6 p.m. Central Thursday WHERE Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.


Sports, Pages 15 on 02/25/2014